Graham Coxon: ‘The 1990s were fraught. I didn’t enjoy it’

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08 April 2018 |Elisa Bray| Independent

“It’s one of those days”, says Graham Coxon, arriving flustered after the school run. Things aren’t improved when the north London restaurant where we’ve met turns out not to have soya milk; Coxon, 49, has been vegan for seven months.

He turns to his press officer, at a neighbouring table, and asks agitatedly, “Shall we go somewhere else?”

Then, checking himself: “Or am I just being grumpy…”

He’s not eaten anything today, he points out as he scours the menu. He orders water.

“I don’t know if I’m tired because of kids, or tired because of that [veganism].” He discards his trademark thick-rimmed glasses on the table, rubs his eyes and ruffles his hair, like someone who would much rather be tucking into breakfast in the comfort of his own kitchen, than doing an interview.

“It’s difficult to know. But as a machine I’m working a lot better.”

The veganism started as a response to his “growing disgust with the food industry and agriculture”.

“Just the wastefulness, with how society and the world is set up. It’s all totally wrong and anybody who speaks sense about it is overridden by the people who are making the world go round monetarily.”

His first soundtrack

We are here to discuss Coxon’s new album – his first soundtrack, for the Netflix series The End of the F***king World, about a pair of teenage outsiders. It’s a brilliant collection of songs as evocative as the soundtrack to the indie film Juno, or Badly Drawn Boy’s About A Boy, and its influences span Scott Walker, late-1950s female vocalists, Americana, “post-punk arty stuff”, and early-1990s lo-fi. It was a learning curve for Coxon, but he found himself tapping into the way that he’s worked with Blur.

“After the meeting I immediately started making some tracks which were all totally wrong. In the end I treated the characters and the scenes like I would have treated a songwriter, trying to glean from reaction what I should be interpreting.

“That’s what I’ve done with Damon [Albarn] for years. I have to try and get as much information out of the melody or the odd lyric that he had, then figure out the emotional drive of the song and do the guitar work that would suit it.”

The soundtrack also captures Coxon’s introverted character, although he claims this was unintentional. As Blur’s guitarist, Coxon was always the quiet one, awkward in the spotlight. “In My Room” is, well, about being in your room, while “Bus Stop”, with its line “Walk a fine line, don’t follow me, don’t talk to me”, conjures up a sense of wanting to be left alone.

“‘In My Room’ is totally autobiographical”, he recalls. “I was in my room all the time working. That makes it seem I was having a bad time, but I wasn’t. I was having a great time.” He laughs. “In fact my room is my favourite place.”

In 2015, Blur made a terrific comeback, returning to the top of the chart with their first album in 12 years, The Magic Whip. Coxon was instrumental in making the album happen; he spent “tons of time” working on it with Stephen Street, creating the tracks out of the jam sessions, then taking them to Albarn to add the vocals. Graham Coxon: ‘As a machine, I’m working a lot better.’

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Photo by Denholm Hewlett

Sidelined by Blur

By comparison, despite the fact that they are consistently critically acclaimed, Coxon’s solo albums, of which there are now nine including this latest soundtrack, have little commercial success; the last of his solo albums to trouble the Top 20 was 2004’s Happiness in Magazines.

He points out that there’s another album waiting for a release. It was recorded around the same time as his last solo album, A&E, a 1960s-influenced, “more of an indie sound in the old way”, album, “you know, electric guitars and tambourines, real drums and cute little melodies and some glum tunes and some really nice big tunes”.

But with the arrival of The Magic Whip it fell by the wayside. “It’s just taking its time getting out there. What happened in the past is that I’d record an album and then Blur would do something and then…” he laughs awkwardly.

You know … I just felt like my stuff was getting overlooked a lot of the time. Maybe it wasn’t, maybe it was just not that great. I’m just trying to figure out what it is about my stuff, what it is about me, that stops my stuff getting to more people. I think it’s imbued with my whole personality which isn’t particularly, um, extrovert.”

Perhaps, he adds, people aren’t really into “songs that are a little bit miserable”. (“If Ed Sheeran sings it then of course people like it. People like what they’re told to like and people don’t care about music enough to make their own minds about what they like.”)

But he feels his introversion has held him back? “Possibly, yeah.”

After the release, Blur went on tour for a year. How did it feel to be back at the top of the charts with them? “It did make me happy because it was my part in making that record come out, so it was great when everyone was so positive about it. For me it was about making some sort of amends to my group and for my part in things going slightly awry in the 1990s.”

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